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Coronavirus: Is Germany ready for the second wave?

  • August 05, 2020

By the middle of next week, the first German states will have started the new school year. After months of distance learning at home, since school closed in March, and only occasional classroom lessons right before the summer holidays, a return to normal operations is planned.

“We all long for normality. But we are simply in a situation that is not normal,” warns Susanne Johna, chairwoman of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, which says the second wave of the pandemic has already arrived in Germany, as the country sees a rising number of infections. “We are already in a second, slowly rising wave,” said Johna in an interview with the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

Read more: Coronavirus — How to make sense of the numbers and terminology

Students will have to wear facemasks non-stop for around 8 hours per day

Diminishing discipline

As long as there are no drugs to treat COVID-19, warns the doctor, this wave of infections can only be contained by distancing rules and hygiene. But that will require discipline, a discipline that is noticeably decreasing among more and more citizens. And the new rules will pose a real challenge to students as the school year begins.

Read more: Coronavirus — What you should know about tests

There are to be designated paths inside the school building, separated areas in the playgrounds, and staggered timetables: The aim is to ensure that as few pupils as possible meet each other face to face.

This has been deemed the only way to return to regular classes because there wouldn’t be enough teachers otherwise. The most populous German state, North-Rhine Westphalia, is obliging students — grade five and above — and teachers to wear face masks at all times. The other states think this goes too far: They want to make masks mandatory only outside the actual classrooms.

Read more: Germany debates curbing freedom of assembly after coronavirus rallies

It is already foreseeable that infected students will also be among those returning to school. First evaluations of the recent coronavirus tests for holidaymakers returning from high-risk areas have shown that on average 2.5% tested positive. However, only around 40% of those returning home take advantage of the voluntary test offer at all. The actual rate could therefore either be lower or higher.

Testing to become compulsory

Health Minister Jens Spahn is working on a law to enforce mandatory testing. “We have first drafts, but we want to coordinate well with the states, because they have to implement testing at airports and train stations. Until this is in place, there will be a two-week quarantine for people entering the country from risk areas.”

But fewer and fewer of those affected are abiding by the quarantine regulations. Especially since it is easy to circumvent them. For example, anyone traveling from the US to Berlin is simply handed a piece of paper at the airport asking them to report to the local health authority. Buth there is no data exchange between the entry authorities and the health authorities.

Coronavirus infections to rise

The Munich-based virologist Ulrike Protzer also warns that a test could come out negative because an infected person returning from a trip may still be in the incubation period, and could only be tested positive after three to four days. “I can only rule out infection if I do a second test within four to five days and until then I need to self-isolate,” she said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD.

Read more: Coronavirus and what we can learn from the Spanish flu

German authorities want to detect and contain regional virus outbreaks as quickly as possible.

The hospitals are prepared for an increasing number of COVID-19 patients, says Susanne Johna, of the Marburger Bund. Since the second wave is building up slowly, she sees no need to free up a high number of intensive care beds nationwide all at once. She says preparations can be staggered until in all intensive care capacities are available when they are needed at the peak of COVID-19 infections.

Parents in Berlin were demonstrating for the reopening of schools

No new lockdown!

Politicians want to do everything to avoid another nationwide closure of shops and schools. They are also hoping new technology will help. The Corona Warn App, which tracks whether its user has come into contact with an infected person, has now been downloaded by 16.5 million citizens. Another app is being developed by the Robert Koch Institute to track people’s body temperatures and allow scientists to identify infection clusters swiftly.

Read more: Coronavirus tracing apps proving to be a tricky business around the world

“We were able to carry out the first quantitative analyses, and the data was very much in line with what we have already done, for example, in the prediction of flu outbreaks,” said Dirk Brockmann, epidemiologist at Berlin’s Humboldt University and the Robert Koch Institute.

The scientist is confident that the app can help to predict coronavirus outbreaks even better. “We can now automate the detection procedure so we can have a temperature fever curve for the whole country on a daily basis,” he told DW.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Better than nothing

    It has not been proven that the face masks seen above can effectively protect you against viral infections. That said, these masks are probably able to catch some germs before they reach your mouth or nose. More importantly, they prevent people from touching their mouth or nose (which most people do instinctually). If you are already sick, such masks may keep you from infecting others.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Disinfect your hands

    One of the best ways to protect yourself from the virus is to frequently clean your hands, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of recommendations. The WHO recommends alcohol-based hand rub, like the ones seen here in a hospital.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Soap and water will do as well

    The simpler day-to-day solution is to use water and soap, if you’ve got some handy. But make sure to wash your hands thoroughly. Health authorities in the US recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, making sure to pay attention to areas like your fingertips, thumbs and underneath your nails.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Coughing and sneezing – but doing it right!

    So here’s what the doctors recommend: When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with your flexed elbow. Or use tissue — but then immediately throw that tissue away and wash your hands. With your shirt or sweater, however, no, you don’t need to throw them away. Do wash them frequently, though, or take them to the dry cleaner’s.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Stay away!

    Another recommendation that may not work for everybody: Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough! If you have to tend to sick people, make doubly sure to take additional protective measures.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Got a fever? Go to the doctor, not on a trip!

    If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Avoid public places so you don’t infect others. And also, explain to your doctor where you’ve previously traveled and who you may have come in contact with.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Avoid contact!

    When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of the novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals. That includes any surfaces that are in contact with animals as well.

  • How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

    Well done — not rare!

    Cook meat thoroughly. The consumption of raw, or undercooked, animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods. These are good food safety practices and help prevent the spread of illnesses.

    Author: Fabian Schmidt

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